My “where I read” Unknown Armies has taken a necessary hiatus while I ran a short campaign. It turns out that running UA takes a lot more work between sessions than I am used to. Normal service will be shortly. In the meantime though I wanted to make a short post about how the campaign went. And broadly speaking, I think it went well, though there are definitely some things that I would do differently.
First among those was letting our Adept player make his own school of magick. I am not adverse to imagination and custom design, but I think as we were both neophytes, I should have made him run with one of the existing schools in the book. Jase had a great idea for a magick school, and the background made for a great character in play. But in the end I did most of the legwork in creating charging rituals and formulae, in constant what’s app and Facebook discussing with him, and the end result of that was that his didn’t really have ownership of the spells, and I worry that he didn’t feel he was using enough magick.
On the other hand, Thom, who played an “other” supernatural type, a Brujo de Chiloé, had a more natural grasp of his abilities, and played them to the full, even though there were more limited than the Adept. The other Tom played a pony to great effect, his character was a trustafaraian psychonaut. Watching these three characters interact was great fun, but I think, they showed me that if I was running “my first Unknown Armies campaign” again, I would insist that all the players build ponies (I should say “ponies” is in-game slang for normal people, or people without great magickal powers). Then, I’d introduce the players to the world through their characters, letting them encounter Adepts and Avatars before playing them.
Our Avatar player was “The Captain” but again, I think a lack of confidence with the system prevented her from playing the Captain to the full. She was more comfortable watching from the sidelines. Which makes me think, that I’d recommend another “first time” player who really wanted to be an Avatar choose another, less proactive one. And the other big problem I encountered was integrating a player who hadn’t been in at the beginning. I followed the guidelines in the book, but felt that the poor guy was an observer, not really invested in the action.
All these failures are mine, I hasten to add, I’m not getting at the players here. I think I should have done more to make it easier for the Adept to use magick, the Avatar to play her role and take charge and the new player (a great alcoholic doctor concept) to feel part of the team.
So what went well? Lots of things. The “Session Zero” character and cabal creation was a dream. The players came up with a great objective – to end the world by working out what had stopped the Mayan apocalypse clock and restarting it. Which I will admit was a somewhat more cosmic objective than I imagined for a first campaign. The connection that characters made between themselves and NPCs were a great tool for me to work with as a GM. Setting up a chunk of possibilities, for antagonists and settings. The cabal decided that the clock might exist in a lost Mayan city … weeks before we all heard about a lost Mayan city being discovered! Synchronicity or what?
The first adventure went really well too. Some weeks after Session Zero, we had lost a player (Jamie was redeployed in RL). This might have been a problem, since we had decided he was the one with most knowledge about the stopping of the clock, but an NPC, Jillian, that he and another player shared relationships with easily solved that issue. She took Tom’s slacker character “Humph” to the rooftop chillout area of the club we had created to get high and talk about the MIA Castle (Jamie’s character). He had a critical success rolling against his Psychonaut identity, so I gave him a vision which helped the team come up with milestones for the campaign. Meanwhile, I’d planned for a couple of Blue Line agents to stage a drugs raid on the club, as cover for their search for Jillian. All the players reacted really well, with Jase throwing one agent off the roof. And Thom and Sophia’s characters drugging the second before they made their escape.
The second adventure was I think the most “Unknown Armies.” With Jase’s character making non-Euclidean porn to charge up a formula to wipe his identity after he got caught on camera robbing the Blue Line copper he’d thrown off the roof, and then killing Jillian so that Thom’s Brujo could skin her to get at the map that they had worked out was tattooed onto the inside of her back. Then of course they realised the map revealed a location in Mexico and Jase no longer had a valid passport. So off to Newcastle to meet Geordie the (blind) Forger for new papers. Disposing of Jillian’s body at Humph’s uncles pig farm (and killing the gamekeeper who caught them in act and feeding him to the pigs too). Oh, and stealing an antique Philippe Patek watch which they had decided they’d need for a ritual to open the otherspace to the Mayan clock, off Humph’s uncle too, while they were in the neighbourhood.
Geordie the Forger wanted to be paid in guns. So the third session involved a visit to a Cheetham Hill dealer, and while they were in Manchester, picking up Matt’s doctor. I had relied on someone getting injured in Cheetham Hill, and them needing a backstreet doctor. But the action did not fall out the way I expected, so I wish I had thought of a better way to bring Matt’s new character into the cabal. Sophia worked hard to recruit him to her character Helen’s crew, thankfully, but I should not have left the her to do all the heavy lifting. It meant that in the latter sessions, three of the cabal who had crossed the line between moral in immoral took most of the protagonist actions, while Sophia and Matt too their characters out of the action. As I say, not their fault, a perfect for each character’s story, but I feel ultimately unsatisfactory for either of them.
Then another bit of synergic news hit the web. Just before the final session (where I had intended a centuries old mechanomancer to be the antagonist who had stopped the doomsday clock) it was revealed that Jeff Bezos was building his own 10,000 clock, which, Thom suggested, and we all agree meant that he was the antagonist , and his building site was actually another portal into the otherspace containing the apocalypse clock! All very cool, and I loved the idea, but it meant that that “final” episode ended on a bit of an anti-climax as we ran out of time and decided to run the Bezos encounter in a later session.
I LOVE the inversion, and my players are great, but I feel I maybe should have stuck with my original plan, and encounter with the Zero Heron, to have a more climactic final scene. As it was no-one was even slightly injured, so I particularly feel for Matt’s character who had nothing to do really by watch the rest of the cabal.
Lessons learned for next time.